I’m a well educated man although you wouldn’t think it from my factory job. It’s all the fault of a Yorkshire terrier.
2 years ago I came out of university fresh faced and ready to set the world alight. I returned back home with my parents temporarily until I could get on my own 2 feet. Everyone was happy back then, and the future brimmed with possibility.
I’d trained as a psychologist, but when I came out of university jobs in the field were pretty scarce. I wasn’t really sure how you were supposed to make inroads into the profession.
Around this time I was also beginning to catch up with old friends who I had been to school with. On the same day that I found out one of my old friends had become a policeman I landed a job answering the phone for the emergency services. I’m not sure how sure how significant that is –but it felt important at the time -in an unclassifiable way. I still think about it sometimes.
The job was not as bad as you might think. It was mostly a job of calming people down, whilst at the same time getting the address of the fire/crime/accident and the barebones of what happened. Most people are surprisingly lucid and clear in pressurised situations. I think it must be because most people realise the gravity of the situation and just want to help resolve it.
Sometimes the situation –particularly ones such as battery and assault –could be very bad. In those times though I saw myself as… and I realise that this is going to sound shallow… but as a superhero. The hot phone would ring and I’d make sure that all the right things were done.
One of the worst aspects of the job was not actually knowing the outcome of the job. But more than once I was able to find out by asking around my friends in the forces. Often I wouldn’t need to even ask as they would come to me –usually when the news was particularly good. A life was saved! A crime was prevented!
Once I found out all the details of one incident of a crime by a friend at the force who related a story at a party. Quietly afterward I told him that it was me who had taken the initial call. He just smiled and raised his glass. But he never spoke about work in my presence again after that. It seemed to be an unspoken turn in our relationship. I still think about that too.
A couple of times I have seen stories in the news and papers which related to calls I had taken. I remember one call where a man was being burgled and he could hear the thief rummaging downstairs. I got most of the details and tried to keep him on the line –but he hung up. I followed all the procedures and stayed on the case until I was relieved from duty for the night and sent home. On the radio as I drove home the news told of his murder. I didn’t eat for 48 hours after that, and felt sick for about a week after that. But I never once thought about quitting. The final blow came from something more subtle but, to me at least, more profound.
One late autumn afternoon I took a call from a very distressed lady. At the time I wasn’t sure how old she was. You can’t really tell form the voice. I’ve had girls on the phone who have screamed themselves so hoarse that I thought were old age pensioners by the time I spoke to them.
She was inconsolable and very difficult to understand with all her wailing and crying. I had a knot in my stomach.
I eventually established that there had been a death of some kind, perhaps a murder. “He’s dead! He’s dead!!!” she kept wailing.
I calmed her down enough to get her address details jotted down on my pad which I always used to piece things together before putting it on the computer.
The computer programme we used worked like a kind of search engine; you just put in scraps of details and gradually the computer finds the address by a process of elimination. I usually use my jotter pad to get incident details sorted out. This time I had to use it to sort out everything. She was in a very, very bad state. I wondered if she had been hurt herself.
I forget the specifics of what was actually said now. But I do remember the feeling when I realised that she was in fact referring to her pet dog that had died in his sleep. I felt both great relief and also bewilderment. I couldn’t understand how someone else could care so much about an animal.
I calmed her down and called the only people I could think of –her local vets. After a little while I handed over the call.
The rest of the day I kept looking at that address. Even when I covered it up I could see it in my mind. It followed me home, and that night I don’t think I slept at all. I just kept thinking about my widowed mother who lived not 10 miles away –who I had not seen in several months.
By the morning I felt awful and called in sick to work.
The whole time my notes stared at me. The worst thing about memories like that is that you can’t dismiss them. I couldn’t cover the notes in my mind without seeing them still.
I took a drive that rainy autumn morning. I aimlessly drove down streets. I didn’t think much about this at the time. Not much of a psychologist after all huh? Of course I ended up heading to the address I had memorised in my mind.
When I got there I found the police guards and taped off area. It was all very sedate.
I asked the policeman there what had happened and he asked if I was a relative. I don’t know why, but I said I was.
They took me into the house which was in a bad state of disrepair. The wallpaper was peeling from the walls and the floor was strewn with rubbish. Cartons, food scraps… it was awful. I felt ashamed. How could anyone live this way in this day and age?
She had died clutching her –what must have been 3 day dead –Yorkshire terrier.
I spent the rest of the day learning all about her and being handed her things. I told the police that I had never realised it had got like this, that we normally ate out when me met. I told them that I would come back to pick up the stuff which could be salvaged. I took with me an old black and white picture of her in her twenties.
She was beautiful.
On the way home I stopped at the police station and told them that the details I had told the officers at the house were false. After about 3 hours of investigation and a fine for wasting police time I was allowed to go home.
When I got home I realised just how empty the house was. I had been living alone now for a year and had never felt as alone before.
I sat on the edge of my bed looking at the picture. She must have been about my age in it. I wished we had been living in the same time. Maybe I could have loved her.
Maybe she wouldn’t have been so alone.
I decided to call my own mother –but the phone just rang.
I called up work and handed in my notice next.
I tried my mother again –but there was no answer.
The phone just kept ringing.
I drink quite a lot nowadays –it’s good to escape life for a while. I don’t like the factory job the temp agency got me, but I’ve been doing it for about 3 years now and can’t really see myself doing anything else.
When I get bad it’s good to have all that hard work to plough into.
I come home so tired most days it’s as much as I can do to fix myself a meal.
Being so exhausted I can always sleep. I never dream. I try not to think much about stuff at all really. You just end up going in circles. What good is that? Regrets.
I think about picking up my psychology books sometimes as I can barely remember a thing anymore. But I never do. They just clutter up the shelf staring back at me.
I guess that writing this down is a step forward.
But does it actually change anything?